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Survey Reveals Employees Lack Trust in Managers


In May 2010, Right Management undertook a survey of over 4,000 employees in the United States to gauge levels of trust within organizations. The results demonstrated a clear gap in employee trust that needs attention if organizations are to remain competitive in the longer term.

When employees were asked in the survey how often they trusted their managers to make the best decisions, this is how they responded:

• 20% always trusted their managers • 57% occasionally trusted their managers • 19% rarely trusted their managers

With three quarters of all employees expressing low levels of trust in their managers, managers clearly have a long way to go in forming a collaborative partnership with their workers. If employees do not trust their managers, they are unlikely to give of their best in advancing the interests of the company.

Where should managers focus their efforts in starting to build trust levels in their organization? The survey gives some helpful pointers. Trust levels decline as one moves closer to the front-line. Whilst 31% of senior executives always trust their managers' decisions, this trust reduces to 22% for non-management employees.

Levels of trust also decline as companies grow larger. At smaller companies, 26% of employees always trust their managers' decisions, declining to just 20% for larger organizations.

Finally, trust levels decline with age. Of employees aged 18 to 24 years, only 15% said they rarely trusted their managers to make the best decisions. The level of mistrust rises to 27% for employees aged over 55 years.

Every company's situation is different, so I'm not suggesting you take the above results as indicative of your own company. However, there are some important pointers here on where you might start looking to improve trust levels in your business.

Firstly, spend more time developing trust in your front-line employees. They are the ones dealing with your customers, right! Other studies have shown that poor manager-employee relationships breed poor customer relationships. Get managers to show their employees the big picture and how their role is important to achieving the organization's objectives. Prompt managers to speak frequently with their direct reports. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Secondly, as your company grows, don't overstretch the span of control. Ensure that the number of employees reporting to each manager does not strain the manager's ability to communicate effectively with his or her direct reports. Also, review how often messages come down from the executive suite to the lower levels of the organization. I'm talking here about messages to do with company strategy, financial results, and so on. And think about what mechanisms you have in place to allow for genuine two-way communication; the sharing of ideas and feelings up the food chain as well as down. When employees feel as if they have a stake in the decisions made, they are more likely to support it as problems surface down the track.

Thirdly, with your more senior employees, make them feel valued. Consider training them up to become trainers and coaches, and assign them younger employees to mentor. Trust levels will grow if they feel they have been brought into the fold and trusted themselves. Trust is a two way street. When you trust your employees to do the right thing, they are more likely to trust your actions as a manager.

How are trust levels in your organization? If you were to run a similar survey, what do you think would be the results? What are you doing to improve trust levels in your organization? I encourage you to put your comments here and share your ideas.


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